Wednesday, November 29, 2006


Very cool thinking from frieght officials for a change,1,3887348.story?coll=la-headlines-california
Ports considering maglev trains to cut smog
Officials see magnetic levitation technology as a clean, high-speed way to move goods inland, ease traffic congestion and reduce pollution.By Dan Weikel
Times Staff Writer

November 28, 2006

Searching for ways to reduce air pollution and highway congestion, local harbor officials might resort to so-called maglev trains to haul cargo containers to and from the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports — the first freight application of the technology anywhere in the world.

Now under study at Cal State Long Beach are three maglev proposals to shuttle cargo to rail yards in Los Angeles and to inland distribution centers in Victorville and Beaumont.

In the months ahead, the Southern California Assn. of Governments and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are planning to launch their own feasibility studies of the technology.

Maglev, or magnetic levitation, trains produce no air pollution along their routes and are powered by magnetic fields in guideways that pull them along at speeds up to 300 mph. So far, two systems have been built for commercial passenger service in China and Japan.

Adapted for freight, researchers say, maglev trains could do the work of thousands of trucks and conventional locomotives, cutting harmful emissions in the port area and alleviating congestion on rail and highway corridors that serve the nation's largest harbor complex.

"If we are going to get serious about cleaning up the port, we need to bring electric power into the transportation system. We need to be emission free if we are going to grow," said S. David Freeman, president of the Los Angeles Harbor Commission. "Maglev is one of several options we are looking at. It has a lot going for it."

The search for new technologies became more imperative on Nov. 20 when the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach approved a $2-billion plan to transform the harbor into a clean-air model for seaports worldwide.

To achieve that goal, many proposals are being considered, including alternative rail systems, emissions controls and low-sulfur fuels for trucks, heavy equipment, locomotives and cargo ships.

But cleaning the air and keeping the cargo moving will be a monumental task. By 2030, the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are expected to handle the equivalent of 21 million, 40-foot cargo containers annually — triple today's volume.

Truck trips on the Long Beach Freeway are expected to increase from 40,000 a day to more than 90,000 in the next 25 years.

Demand for freight rail service is also expected to more than double, choking the existing track network in Southern California. Congested corridors already are delaying freight trains going into and out of the region.

"Just widening roads is not going to cut it," said Sam Gurol, director of maglev systems for General Atomics in San Diego, which is developing a system for cargo containers.

General Atomics is participating in a study of maglev systems by the Center for the Commercial Deployment of Transportation Technologies at Cal State Long Beach.

Researchers are evaluating a 4.7-mile system between Terminal Island in the Port of Los Angeles and the proposed Southern California International Gateway, a rail terminal to the north. The line would cost about $575 million to build and $9.2 million a year to operate.

Also under study is a 20-mile, $2.4-billion line along the Long Beach Freeway, and a 100-mile network that would connect the port to distribution hubs in Victorville and Beaumont. The estimated cost is about $8.5 billion.

Capable of traveling 90 mph, the trains would run on elevated guideways built in highway medians or along utility rights of way.

Spurs would extend from the main line to port terminals where heavy equipment would shuttle containers from ships and storage yards to maglev cars.

At their destinations, similar methods would be used to transfer the containers to trucks and trains.

Researchers say maglev freight systems are becoming economically attractive because of the need to reduce air pollution and the high cost of building highways and conventional rail lines.

At roughly $100 million a mile, the cost of building a maglev system for cargo is approaching that of building a mile of freeway in urban areas.

It is also cheaper than the $200 million a mile required for maglev passenger trains — an enormous cost that has often been an impediment to commercial projects.

After almost a half century of research in Europe and Asia, Japan and China have built the only two maglev passenger lines in the world.

If the freight system is built, the Cal State Long Beach study indicates that moving containers by maglev would cost considerably less than by trucks or conventional trains.

The estimated savings ranges from 25% to 50%.

"This technology is coming. No doubt about it. The costs are coming down," said Steven Hinds, program administrator for the Cal State Long Beach research center.

Officials at the Southern California Assn. of Governments, a regional planning agency, say, however, that the Cal State study may have overstated the economic feasibility of the maglev system by underestimating the costs of moving cargo at port terminals and rail yards.

Danny Wu, the manager of SCAG's goods movement program, said association officials discussed the Cal State Long Beach study about six months ago.

"We felt they did not consider all the complexities of the logistics chain," Wu said. "They underestimated the costs, which goes to feasibility."

Gurol said the research team would welcome input from other agencies interested in maglev because some factors could have been overlooked for the study.

"This is a new way of moving shipping containers," Gurol said. "Even when you go talk to the ports, there are many questions they can't answer about moving cargo."

Some of the issues, SCAG officials say, will be addressed in future studies planned by the ports and SCAG, as well as the environmental review for improvements proposed for the Long Beach Freeway.

"We still need to do the assessments," said Philip Law, manager of SCAG's transportation corridor program. "What makes maglev attractive are zero emissions and electric power, which gives it an advantage over diesel trucks. But it's pretty expensive, and how to get containers from ships to the trains needs to be worked out."


Thursday, November 16, 2006


Important new book

Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction
by Terry Tamminen
ISBN: 1597261017

How much would you pay for a gallon of gas? $4.00? $10.00? Would you pay with the health of your lungs or with years taken from your lifespan? The infamous "pain at the pump" runs much deeper than our wallets, argues Terry Tamminen, former Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and current Special Advisor to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Petroleum may power our cars and heat our homes, but it also contributes to birth defects and disorders like asthma and emphysema, not to mention cancer. In Lives per Gallon, Tamminen takes a hard look at these and other health, environmental, and national security costs hidden in every barrel of oil.

While the petroleum industry is raking in huge profits, Tamminen shows, it is studiously avoiding measures that would lessen the hazards of its products. Using the successful lawsuits by state governments against big tobacco as a model, the author sets forth a bold strategy to hold oil and auto companies accountable and force industry reform. He also offers a blueprint for developing alternative energy sources based on California's real world experiences.

Certain to be controversial, Lives per Gallon is an unblinking assessment of the true price of petroleum and a prescription for change. The choice is clear: continuing paying with our health, or kick our addiction and evolve beyond an oil-dependent economy.

"America's prosperity, our independence and security, our democracy and our ideals, our international leadership and national pride are all dependent on our breaking our lethal oil addiction. Terry Tamminen has turned the spotlight of clarity on the defining issue of our age." Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President, Waterkeeper Alliance

"Tamminen does more than point to the problems. He lays out step-by-step solutions to ending our oil addiction. I only wish that all members of Congress would read this book." Dick Morris, Fox News political analyst and former advisor to President Clinton

"The book reads like a gangster thriller, while providing detailed and painful truths about how much the oil and auto industries have controlled development (or lack thereof) in the U.S....a definite 'must read' for anyone interested in improving America's future and national security." Jonathan Patz, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Population Health Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

"Crude is, sadly, much more than a fad, and our energy-intense lifestyle is more than the handiwork of deceitful oil and car companies. If only it were so easy." Washington Post

Tamminen takes a hard look at health, environmental, and national security costs hidden in every barrel of oil. He also offers a blueprint for developing alternative energy sources based on California's real world experiences.

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About the Author
Terry Tamminen is a leading expert on pools and spas, serving as technical advisor on a variety of water chemistry and pool technology projects. He is the executive director of Environment Now, working with activist organizations such as the Santa Monica Bay Keeper and the San Diego Bay Keeper, dedicated to preserving and protecting coastal resources in California.

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ISBN: 1597261017
Subtitle: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction
Author: Tamminen, Terry
Author: Tamminen, Terry
Author: Tamminem, Terry
Publisher: Island Press
Subject: Public Policy
Subject: Petroleum industry and trade
Subject: Energy policy
Subject: Government - U.S. Government
Subject: Public Policy - Economic Policy
Subject: Industries - Energy Industries
Copyright: 2006
Publication Date: November 2006
Binding: Hardcover
Language: English
Pages: 262
Dimensions: 916x630x94 111

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


No worries, mate, plenty of oil! (Yergin)

* Expert debunks oil-crisis theory
Detroit Free Press
By Kevin G. Hall
  Far from being a nearly exhausted resource, the world's oil reserves are three times bigger than what some popular estimates state, and peak global oil production is still about a quarter-century away, according to a new study by Pulitzer Prize-winning oil historian Daniel Yergin.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Home Based Combined Heat/Power Systems?

from the November 14, 2006 edition -

It heats. It powers. Is it the future of home energy?

*Residential 'micro-combined-heat-and-power' units are efficient
furnaces that create electricity.*

*By Mark Clayton
| Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Down in Bernard Malin's basement is a softly thrumming metal box that
turns natural gas into hot water and generates $600 to $800 worth of
electricity a year - a bonus byproduct of heating his home.

"It's like printing money," says Mr. Malin, the first person in
Massachusetts - perhaps in the nation - to own a residential "micro
combined-heat-and-power" system, also known as micro-CHP.

But he's not likely to be the last.

Since Malin changed his home heating system to micro-CHP in February, 18
other families in the Boston area also have adopted the technology,
which squeezes about 90 percent of the useful energy from the fuel.
That's triple the efficiency of power delivered over the grid.

Factories and other industrial facilities have used large CHP systems
for years. But until the US debut of micro-systems in greater Boston,
the units had not been small enough, cheap enough, and quiet enough for
American homes. Add to that the public's rising concern about
electric-power reliability - seen in a sales boom of backup generators
in the past couple of years - and some experts see in micro-CHP a
power-to-the-people energy revolution.

"Right now these residential micro-CHP systems are just a blip," says
Nicholas Lenssen of Energy Insights, a technology advisory firm in
Framingham, Mass. "But it's a ... technology that ... could have a big
impact as it's adopted more widely over the next five to 10 years."

*The Japanese are early adopters*

Home heating systems that produce a kilowatt of electricity - like
Malin's - and bigger units that pump out about 4 kilowatts are already
available in Europe and Japan. They'll make their commercial US debut in
New England in January.

Of course, other home-based power-supply options - solar panels and wind
generators - have preceded micro-CHP, with varying degrees of
acceptance. Both can be costly and hard to site. Fuel cells are another
much-anticipated option, but remain too costly for commercialization.
Micro-CHP, by contrast, is an advanced hybrid of existing technologies:
an internal-combustion engine generator married to a high-efficiency
home furnace.

In Japan, more than 30,000 homeowners have installed micro-CHP systems
driven by quiet, efficient internal-combustion engines, each housed in a
sleek metal box made by Honda. Japan is ahead because gas utilities have
been subsidizing and promoting the systems. In Britain, where the
systems look like dishwashers and sit under kitchen counters, 80,000
systems made by a New Zealand company are on order.

At least five companies are building micro-CHP systems worldwide. Two
are trying to enter the US market: Marathon Engine Systems of East Troy,
Wis., plans to bring a 4-kilowatt hot-water system it sells in Europe to
the US early in 2007. Climate Energy of Medfield, Mass., has developed a
forced-hot-air system that marries a high-efficiency furnace to a
superquiet Honda generator. That system has been deployed as a pilot to
several US homes, including Malin's.

Such systems help people like Lynn Denoy insulate themselves from high
electricity prices because they draw power from the commercial grid much
less often in winter.

"I feel good about money we're saving - and the environment - because
we're using less gas [than the old furnace] and creating our own heat
and electricity," says the speech therapist from Braintree, Mass. Ms.
Denoy's family will buy some power this winter - and all spring and
summer when the furnace system is not running.

Still, micro-CHP makes some utilities nervous, experts say. "In North
America I don't see utilities embracing it. I think they'll see it as
more of a threat initially," says Jon Slowe, a director at Delta Energy
& Environment, an energy consulting company in Glasgow, Scotland.

At the municipal utility in Braintree, Mass., where Malin and Denoy
live, officials say micro-CHP could bolster the grid in their area with
extra power, if the idea catches on. "If 1,000 homeowners bought these
in Braintree, that would be great - about 10 percent of our residential
load," says William Bottiggi, director of the Braintree Electric Light
Department, which partnered with the American Public Power Association
to subsidize some local installations.

But William Steeley of Distributed Energy Resources at the Electric
Power Research Institute, whose members include investor-owned
utilities, says the jury's out. "We are very intrigued by micro-CHP and
its potential," he says. "It is competing against well-established
technologies. So we'll have to see."

Wind-powered turbines in back yards, solar panels on rooftops, and
micro-CHP are part of a gradual shift by homeowners from central power
plants and toward self-generated power.

Slowly gaining ground, the trend is "not at all pie in the sky," says
Cheryl Harrington of the Regulatory Assistance Project, a nonprofit that
helps states and nations develop energy policy. "The question is how to
get electric utilities to actively support this kind of generation when
it is on the customer's side of the meter."

*And the price tag is...?*

Micro-CHP doesn't come cheap - just with a long-term discount. Basic
systems cost from $13,000 to $20,000, installed. Even at the lower
range, that's at least $6,000 more than a new high-efficiency hot-air
furnace, even after a gas company rebate. Result: The payback period on
the initial investment is three to seven years, depending on the cost of
electricity, say officials at Climate Energy. The company expects to
install about 200 systems next year, mostly in New England.

Given consumers' interest in having a backup power generator on site,
micro-CHP systems that provide that, as well as cut electric bills, may
hold the most promise, say analysts.

Climate Energy won't have a model with backup capability until 2008, but
is poised to sell its "Freewatt" system that chops electric bills by
about 50 percent. Marathon, which makes larger home systems, will offer
backup capability when its systems roll out early next year.

While all CHP systems use fossil fuel, some states and environmental
groups have endorsed them as a step in the right direction. Through
efficiency gains, a Climate Energy system cuts carbon-dioxide emissions
for electricity used in the home by 40 percent, company officials say.

If micro-CHP can capture even 1 percent of the 3 million home furnaces
sold each year, that would be enough to make it more broadly affordable,
says Eric Guyer, CEO of Climate Energy. "I think there will be a mind
shift over time."

For Richard Hillel of Belmont, Mass., that shift is here. "When you can
have something producing heat and electricity, too, it's great," he
says. "We should be doing anything we can to save energy."

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Thursday, November 02, 2006


Ethanol: more costly, less efficient

Costs Limit Bigger US Move to Biomass Ethanol

CHICAGO - Scientists have developed ways to make ethanol from corn stalks, switchgrass, wood chips and other plant materials, but high production costs and lack of easy access to those materials have slowed the technology's move to widespread commercial use.

In the United States, Ethanol is made primarily from corn, but industry experts have said waste materials from agriculture or forestry could be a cheaper alternative in the future.

"Some (corn-based) ethanol plants are not getting built because people are worried about corn supply. Do you think you would really want to fund a biomass plant because then you're really going to be worried about feedstock supply," said Martha Schlicher of Renewable Agricultural Energy, Inc.

"The minute we start to pay for those biomass feedstocks, the cost of those biomass feedstocks is going to go up," said Schlicher, the vice president of operations and engineering.

She was attending a conference on cellulosic ethanol that discussed issues such as the investment climate, challenges in commercialization and the crucial next steps in the sector.

The US Department of Energy has estimated the cost of producing a gallon of cellulosic ethanol is about US$2.20 per gallon, about twice the cost of producing ethanol from corn.

In his State of the Union address in January, President George W. Bush said the best way to break America's addiction to foreign oil was through the development of new technology to provide more reliable and cheaper alternative fuels.

But efficient harvest and delivery of feedstock materials such as switchgrass, wood chips, or agricultural waste is crucial for a plant's profitability, experts said.

Many investors have been reluctant to finance the new plants, which are costlier than current corn-based plants due to the extra steps needed to break down cellulose into sugars before they can be processed into ethanol.

Farmers have a narrow window to harvest corn for grain. A second harvest to cut stalks and leaves would not only take more time but could hurt future yield potential by compacting soils and removing potential nutrients, Schlicher said.

For other cellulosic feedstocks such as switchgrass or wood biomass, the machinery needed to harvest and compact those materials for shipment, then move them from fields to plants is still being developed and streamlined, the experts said.

Scientists have been able to produce cellulosic ethanol from numerous feedstock sources in smaller pilot plants under nearly ideal conditions, the experts said. But making the technology work on a much larger scale, and thus making it a profitable enterprise, remains a key challenge, they said.

"Enzymes work really, really well at the pilot scale or the lab scale," said Jeff Passmore, executive vice president of Iogen Corporation, which plans to open a cellulosic ethanol plant in Idaho using barley straw as its main feedstock.

"But when you put them into the industrial scale and you're bringing in pounds and pounds of straw from farmer's fields, with all the intruders you expect to find in a bale of straw, like dirt, dead mice, whatever... they have to design a more robust enzyme," he said.

Investors are hesitant to build the high-cost cellulosic facilities until large-scale plants are proven to be profitable, although cellulosic ethanol production costs have fallen by more than half in the past five years.

Genetic engineering will most likely be utilized to produce crops that grow faster and in less ideal conditions, with more plants per acre to push the upper yield limits in the future.

"In real estate they say the three most important things are location, location, location. In a business such as this the three most important things are yield, yield, yield," said Charles Wyman, professor of Chemical and Environmental Engineering at the University of California at Riverside.

Story by Karl Plume
Story Date: 2/11/2006

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